Thomas Jefferson University on Wednesday announced the completion of its combination with Aria Health, creating a regional health care giant with 23,000 employees, $4.5 billion in annual revenue, and 2,217 inpatient beds.

"I'm excited. This is one of the best days of my two-and-a-half years here," Jefferson chief executive Stephen Klasko told a crowd during a ceremonial signing of merger papers at Aria's Torresdale campus. The deal was formally completed on July 1, according to a note to Jefferson bondholders.

The preliminary deal with Aria, which has two hospitals in Philadelphia and one on Bucks County and will be known as Aria - Jefferson Health, was announced last October.

Its completion came about 14 months after a similar deal with Abington Health was made final.

Center-City-based Jefferson has two more preliminary deals outstanding: Philadelphia University, in East Falls, and Kennedy Health System, which had $580 million in 2015 revenue and has 607 licensed beds in hospitals in Cherry Hill, Stratford, and Washington Township.

When the deal with Philadelphia University was announced in December, officials from both organizations said they were aiming for a June 30 closing.

That was not possible, Klasko said in an interview Wednesday, because the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, which accredits colleges and universities, has taken a much deeper dive into the proposal than expected, given the unusual nature of the proposed merger between a health sciences university and a more traditional school.

In addition, Philadelphia University was going through its normal accreditiation process, which officials decided to finish before putting the deal with Jefferson under scrutiny.

Philadelphia University's accreditation was reaffirmed on June 23.

Klasko said he now expects the deal to be done by Dec. 30.

The Kennedy deal could take much longer, assuming the two parties reach a definitive agreement, because New Jersey has a much more rigorous process for reviewing changes in the control of charitable organizations.

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